07 September 2006

Nihonga Painting 1: Fujii Rai

Nihonga Painting: Six Provocative Artists

Today I will treat you to a review of an art exhibition instead of my usual film review. One of the six artists featured at the Nihonga exhibit at the Yokohama Museum of Art (July 15 - September 20, 2006) is doing art using film technology, but I enjoyed the whole exhibition so much that I wanted to write about all of the artists.

Nihonga 日本画 literally means Japanese-style paintings. It is usually used to describe art by modern (Meiji and later) artists who have been influenced by the traditional Chinese and Japanese styles of Yamato-e, kara-e, and kanga. The artists featured in this exhibition have all been influenced by Nihonga art of the past century and a quarter but come from a wide range of backgrounds including graphic design, manga, oil painting, media art, and acrylic. Some of the art work on display had already been completed by the artists in recent years and others were commissioned specifically for the exhibition. Each artist also chose a piece or pieces of artwork that inspired them to be displayed along with their work. I really enjoyed seeing the connections between the recent art and their Nihonga predecessors.

Entering the exhibition, the first artist one encounters is also the youngest of the group. Fujii Rai (藤井雷) is only 25 years old but shows a lot of promise. Picture Letters are a series of small drawings and paintings all of identical size. They were made over a series of four years and sent home to the artist’s family to let them know that he was all right as he traveled through Amami Oshima, Okinawa, and Tapei. Each Picture Letter took up where the previous one left off. It was impossible to count how many Picture Letters there were, but it would be safe to say that Fujii draws something every day. As I walked along I felt like I was watching a movie camera slowly panning left through someone’s subconscious. The images moved in and out of black and white and colour, they moved from realism to surrealism and back again. The range of traditions and styles that Fujii dabbled in through this journey was impressive. Fujii has been inspired by the tradition of scroll painting in Japan and Imamura Shiko’s Study for Scroll of the Tropics was also on display. Fujii had also done a scroll in this style called Scene of Penang.

I really enjoyed Fujii's work and would love to have a book of all his Picture Letters so that I could spend more time reflecting on them. I am very excited about what this artist may produce in the future. The images at the top are examples of the Picture Letters. You can really see the Nihonga influence in the style of the fish and waves.

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2006